I did something that I, a neurotic workaholic, thought I would never do.
No, I didn't take a vacation. First of all, the pandemic is still a problem, especially in America, because there are far too many people who think that the virus is a "hoax" and literally throw tantrums over being required to wear masks and refuse to get vaccinated. To all of you people who are not American, we Americans want you to know that not all of us are like them. Like you, many of us shake our heads at those tantrum-throwing, conspiracy theory-believing, vaccine-rejecting jerks. We also wish that we could take our masks and shove them up their---
I quit my second job. Ever since my early twenties, I've always had multiple jobs. For several years in my twenties, I worked in retail at night and on the weekends, and I taught at various colleges in Chicago during the day. I also went to graduate school full-time. It got to the point where I could never relax because I always kept thinking of all the work I had to do.
After I earned my PhD, I thought I would finally be able to live off one income, but I had thousands of dollars in student loan debt. Two cross-country moves in two years (due to the fact that I accepted an offer to teach at a college in Small Town after I finished graduate school, and then two years later, I accepted another offer to teach at a different college in College Town) also caused me to accumulate thousands of dollars in credit card debt. After years of using public transportation in Chicago, where a guy on the El once got mad that I ignored his advances so he picked his nose and wiped his finger on my coat, and a woman on the bus told me that I was going to hell because I refused to convert to her religion where she said she was the queen goddess of all the forest animals, I had to buy a car after I moved to Small Town. So that meant years of car payments.
That's why, for the past six years since graduate school, I've continued working two jobs: a part-time job for a website, and a full-time teaching job at a college. This summer, I finally paid off my car (I would have paid it off a year ago, if I hadn't accidentally totaled my first car in a flash flood), and I am also close to paying off one of my credit cards. I realized that I could possibly afford to quit my second job because the money I no longer have to pay towards those two debts is close to what I earn from my website job.
I was on the fence at first about quitting. I kept thinking about my medical bills that I've accumulated because of all my trips to the hospital to receive treatment for polycystic kidney disease, which I was diagnosed with last winter. When I was first told that I would need a kidney transplant sometime in the near future, my first thought was, Oh God. How will I be able to take time off from work? I CAN'T!
My first thought SHOULD'VE been this: I'm running out of time. As a matter of fact, it was my second thought. There I was, crying in my nephrologist's office, after he told me that in just a few years I will have to go on dialysis if I don't get a new kidney right away and that the wait list for a kidney is typically 5-7 years. But there is no guarantee that I will even get a kidney, which means I might not survive that long. And I just kept thinking, I'm running out of time.
I spent all these years working two, sometimes three jobs at the same time, because I had to. I couldn't afford to live off just one income because my monthly stipend as a teaching assistant wasn't enough to cover the high cost of living in Chicago. I could have taken out more student loans throughout graduate school like most of my classmates did, but I didn't want to complete my graduate degree with a six-figure debt when I knew that that would put me in debt for the rest of my life. I did take out two small loans towards the end of graduate school, though, when it became clear that I could no longer work three jobs at the same time.
But that day in my nephrologist's office, I thought of all the things I had sacrificed because of my work. I had worked away my youth, and I had ended up in many doctors' offices and in the hospital more than once because of stress-related health problems, the stress caused mainly by the strain of working multiple jobs.
I also thought about all the things that I still want to do: travel around the world, write books, and make a name for myself as a creative writer and a scholar. I actually haven't even left the country in twenty years, not since I was a twenty-year-old college student, when I studied in Spain for one summer. I spent two months in a town that shall remain nameless, taking Spanish classes. I shared an apartment with three American sorority sisters from California. They lined up at the telephone every night so they could call their boyfriends and kept inviting their friends who were backpacking through Europe to stay at the apartment, so that the entire summer I had four or five roommates, rather than three.
While my roommates spent most of their free time talking to their boyfriends or going clubbing and bar-hopping with the other American tourists, I traveled to other towns. I walked around the town I lived in and sampled local foods. I went to the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. I watched flamenco dancers perform in Madrid. I went to Pamplona during the running of the bulls, where a bunch of drunk men kept calling out to me and grabbing at me. I literally had to fight off one particularly aggressive guy and I tried to threaten him by saying I had a knife. Except I used the Spanish word for "butter knife", which made him jeer at me and ask if I was going to make him breakfast.
I spent a weekend in Barcelona, where I rode a double-decker bus around the city and got off the bus whenever I spotted something that looked interesting. I went into tapas bars and was unable to understand most of the menu, so I pointed to dishes that looked interesting and tried them. More often than not they were delicious.
One thing I noted about Spaniards was how relaxed they were. They took a siesta in the middle of the day, where most of the shops and businesses shut down for two or three hours so that people could go home and rest or take long lunches. It's something that would never fly in America, where people typically eat a hurried lunch at their desks at work or skip lunch altogether so that they can get more work done.
It seemed to me like many of the Spaniards I met viewed work simply as a means to an end, rather than as the center of their lives. Maybe that's why they seemed so much happier and more relaxed.
As a young, twenty-year-old woman, I immersed myself in Spanish culture, and I vowed that once I finished school, I would travel around the world and immerse myself in more cultures.
Except I didn't. I immersed myself in my work instead. And then, twenty years later, when my doctors gave me my diagnosis, I thought about all the things I'd missed out on, and how I was running out of time to live the life I wanted to live. When I was younger, I thought I had all the time in the world. But now I'm a middle-aged woman, and I know that my time is running out.
I've always hated my second job. I've had it since graduate school because it enabled me to escape retail. It paid a few bucks more per hour than retail did, and it meant that I could work from home on my couch rather than be on my feet for nine-hour shifts. When I first started working for this company, which legally prevents me from naming it online, I was paid eleven dollars per hour. When I earned my PhD, they gave me a "raise" to twelve dollars per hour. I've worked for this company for thirteen years, the longest I've ever stayed with any employer, and during that entire time, I only ever received that one-dollar raise (apparently to my employer, a doctorate is only worth one dollar). They got away with it because I was technically a "subcontractor".
"They employ a lot of academics," one of my colleagues said. "And they know how desperate untenured faculty and graduate students are for work and money, so they use it to their advantage to exploit them."
The only way I could have been paid more was to apply for a promotion to a supervisor, but that would have only meant about fifteen dollars an hour. And the supervisors I dealt with were totally annoying, nit-picking every single aspect of my work, even though I received praise from many other people for the quality of that same work.
I still have two other credit cards that I have to pay off, and by quitting my second job, it meant it would take me longer to pay off those debts. And of course, there were my student loans. Not to mention the medical treatment I've been receiving has led to hundreds of dollars in medical bills because my insurance does not completely cover everything. I had to use my stimulus checks to cover those bills, but there will be more bills in the near future. I worried about that and thought that maybe I should just stick it out at my second job for at least one more year.
"You have to make changes to your life," my doctors told me. "The best way to protect yourself now is to lower your blood pressure. That means exercising regularly, eating a low-sodium diet, and reducing stress in your life. If you do that you might be able to put off the kidney transplant for at least a few years."
I have been working out 5-6 times a week, and I've become a semi-vegetarian; I only eat meat a couple times a month now, and I've been eating a lot more fruits and vegetables. Working multiple jobs has been a major source of stress for me since I was in my twenties. I realized that if I budgeted carefully and lived more frugally, I could still pay off my remaining credit card debt in two years. If it wasn't for my diagnosis, I would have stayed at my second job. But I was worried about raising my blood pressure again; even though I take two different blood pressure medications and carefully monitor my BP every day, every now and then my blood pressure still goes up, usually when I get an email from a student who blew off several weeks' worth of classes but asks me to "make an exception" and still give them "at least a B."
My health is more important than the paltry income that I get from this second job. By quitting my second job, I'll get to have at least one day off a week, rather than work seven days a week for months at a time, which is what I've been doing since my twenties. I'll have more time to write and pursue publication. I actually drafted two novels and a memoir over the last ten years. But my many work responsibilities kept me from spending more time on the pursuit of publication. I did try submitting short stories and essays to literary magazines, and I have the rejection letters to prove it. But I did not try as hard to get my longer manuscripts published. I was scared of the risk of putting my writing out there because there was always the chance that all those years of writing would lead to nothing.
But if there's one thing I've learned from being diagnosed with a life-threatening disease, it's that life is too short. And sometimes it's worth it to take a risk, especially if it means that it could lead to the life that you want to live, rather than be stuck in a life that you hate.
What about you? Do you work multiple jobs? Have you ever quit a job in the past, and was it hard for you to make the decision to leave?